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Catching the Virtual Cheater and Keeping Academic Integrity Alive

written by: chemteacher•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 12/8/2011

Kids are under a lot of pressure to get good grades. Some also want to find an easy way out of tough assignments. Couple this with today's moral gray, and you get conditions ripe for academic cheating. This article contains tools and tips that you can use to keep your students honest.

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    Catch Me If You Can!

    College. Future. Grades. Time. Homework. It all presses on today's students and for some, it is overwhelming. For others, the lure of a quick way out of an unpleasant situation is what prompts them to do it. According to a December 2008 article by USA Today, 64% of high school students admitted to cheating on a test.

    Now, with the addition of online classes, online instructors are faced with the daunting challenge of maintaining academic integrity in the virtual world. How do you give a test when you can't watch a student? How can you be sure that Joe Student actually authored his history paper? Fortunately, there are tools out there to help teachers, but the first item needed is awareness.

    Six Tips to Keep Students Honest

    1. Know what you're up against. In this time of rapid technology growth, you need to know what tools students are using to cheat and how they are using them. Even if you are giving an exam face-to-face, students can use what is known as the Mosquito Ring Tone that takes advantage of hearing differences based on ages. Students can "ring" each other and text without even looking. Look at hands as well as eyes if you are proctoring a test.
    2. Be clear about academic integrity expectations and follow through. Let students and parents know on day #1 that you expect their work to be original and that anything else is unacceptable. Let them know about the consequences if they are caught cheating. Having a contract to sign may be helpful. When someone is caught cheating, follow through with the consequences.
    3. Show, Don't Tell. Many students do not know how to cite sources properly. They do not understand what constitutes plagiarism. Design an assignment that highlights correct and incorrect ways to use information. Require a passing grade on this assignment before you will let the student work on any other project.
    4. Become familiar with sites like ,where students can get free term papers, book reports, and more. is another one. There is also a site called, which offers college students a custom essay writing service.
    5. Be involved. If you have students writing a large group paper, require them to submit transcripts of online chats with group members. This way you can see that they are involved in the process. Pick up the phone and call each student half-way through the process for an "interview."
    6. Use a site like to better manage throughout the writing and scoring process.
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    Nothing Beats a Human

    Students tune into observation. They know if you are really watching them and if you really care about academic integrity. Set the tone. Let them know that you are involved in the process. If they sense that you are disengaged or just trying to get by yourself, you will see a huge influx of shoddy work and cheaters.